Madness review – Nutty Boys have bounce in them yet

Manchester Arena
They have enough chart-topping 80s hits to fill the night, but tunes from the Londoners’ recent album suggest they’ve got plenty to say about today’s world

There was a time in the mid-1980s when Madness really did seem like – as their song puts it – Yesterday’s Men. After emerging in the ska/2 Tone boom of the late 1970s, the hits had dried up. They looked like disillusioned, uninterested figures on their dwindling kids’ TV appearances and finally split up. What a difference three decades makes. Since re-forming in 1992, they’ve performed on the roof of Buckingham Palace and at the Olympics in recent years, and have become one of the most popular live draws on the circuit. Many among their massed crowd arrive sporting “Mad merch” items such as the Madness fez and inflatable saxophone.

The band’s turnaround has perhaps been a combination of people realising that their run of 21 Top 20 hits between 1979 and 1986 has few parallels in British pop, and also because – unlike many bands of this vintage – this feels like a still ongoing story. Although copper-bottomed classics still appear as regularly as London buses – and the lesser-played Cardiac Arrest makes a welcome reappearance here – their setlists are still laden with new material.

They may never again quite reach the dizzier heights of their initial surge, but newer songs NW5 and Mr Apples – about Camden and a Keith Vaz/Paul Flowers-type naughty public figure respectively – certainly hold their own among My Girl, Embarrassment, Baggy Trousers and the rest.

Current album Can’t Touch Us Now put them back in the Top Five, and both old and modern Madness songs are built on similar foundations: a bouncing pub piano, whiff of ska, cheekily parping horns, choruses that could be chanted on the Chelsea terraces and big wodges of both poignancy and slapstick. The band appear inside mock-up cells, trigger pantomime boos with images of policemen and saxophonist Lee Thompson hurtles around the stage in a wheelchair, leaping up to deliver his trademark rasping blasts. “He broke his ribs in two places,” explains singer Suggs. “The fridge and the radiator.”

Now in their 50s, they’re still Nutty Boys, but bring sage experience to the likes of charming love song You Are My Everything and the melancholy Blackbird – about Suggs’s fleeting Dean Street encounter with the ill-fated Amy Winehouse. In 2016 as in 1979, Madness are musical social historians of a changing, baffling world. Mumbo Jumbo addresses crumbling social services and political post-truths beneath images of Boris Johnson, Nigel Farage and Donald Trump, while elsewhere they simply ask “Where did all the good times go?”

If anyone can bring them back – even if just for a couple of hours – it’s Madness. “Hang on to your Christmas hats!” yells the frontman as they head into a glorious home run – six classic singles, one after another, with more following during the encores. By the time they reach a triumphantly raucous Night Boat To Cairo, the stage has been invaded by dancers wearing Egyptian robes and fezzes and Suggs is trying to grasp the barmy wonderment of it all. “Manchester! Christmas! Beer! Madness!” he yells. Absolutely.

Contributor

Dave Simpson

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Madness: Can’t Touch Us Now review – ska-pop legends as entertaining as ever

Jon Dennis

27, Oct, 2016 @8:30 PM

Article image
Madness pay tribute to Prince Buster – 'A huge impact on everything we did'
Group dedicate their performance of The Prince at BBC festival to the late ska legend

Guardian music

12, Sep, 2016 @9:25 AM

Madness reissue Take It Or Leave It film after 32 years

Sean Michaels: Film traces the band's history from pub gigs to hitmakers, and will be the first time fans can buy accompanying soundtrack

Sean Michaels

08, Aug, 2013 @10:06 AM

Article image
Madness: 10 of the best
From ska covers and tales of London youth to a reunion album worthy of the legends, here's a pick of the Nutty Boys' best tracks

Stevie Chick

18, Jun, 2014 @12:44 PM

Article image
Madness review – baggy bangers with a British pop institution
Suggs and co shuffle their back catalogue to the delight of a loyal crowd as new songs document a changing Britain

Dave Simpson

07, Dec, 2018 @10:35 AM

Article image
Madness – review

After a year that cemented their national-treasure status, Madness sound in ruder health than ever, writes Malcolm Jack

Malcolm Jack

11, Dec, 2012 @1:45 PM

Article image
One Man's Madness – saxman Lee Thompson skanks down memory lane
This lively documentary about the band Madness is chiefly for die-hard fans but cheeky enough to have wider appeal

Mike McCahill

18, May, 2018 @8:00 AM

Madness: Oui Oui Si Si Ja Ja Da Da – review
Age has not withered the giddy ska-pop of Madness on their 10th album, writes Ally Carnwath

Ally Carnwath

27, Oct, 2012 @11:10 PM

Article image
Madness review
The Nutty Boys deliver poignant observations about life, deadpan humour and killer melodies, writes Dave Simpson

Dave Simpson

14, Dec, 2014 @12:08 PM

Article image
The best pop and rock gigs of Christmas 2016 – from Madness to the Chemical Brothers
The Nutty Boys and the oldest ravers in town pull out all the stops for a seasonal smackdown

Michael Hann

14, Nov, 2016 @1:30 PM